Review: Blood Standard by Laird Barron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood Standard might be one of the best crime thrillers I've read in recent years, and while I'd put Isaiah Coleridge in the vein of a Jack Reacher-like protagonist, Laird Barron produces a work of violent noir that wins on its own merits and kept me hooked the whole way through.

Isaiah Coleridge is a Maori/Caucasian-mixed hitter for The Outfit, a mafioso crime syndicate that has assigned him to Alaska to keep the men there from getting into too much trouble. In the book's opening moments, Coleridge ends up making trouble of his own when he's brought into the fold for a sadistic seal hunt that ends with him attacking a made man. After one of The Outfit's higher-ups cashes in a favor, Coleridge finds himself exiled to the Adirondacks in upper New York. Needless to say, trouble once again finds Coleridge when a local girl goes missing, and Isaiah quickly finds himself caught in the crosshairs of the law, mobsters, and warring street gangs. Given the amount of scarring that covers Coleridge's body like a roadmap, this is just another day in the life of Isaiah.

Coleridge is a great big mountain of a man, and violence runs in his blood. Lee Child fans will feel right at home here, although Coleridge is more introspective and philosophical than Child's wandering former MP. College educated, Coleridge is as book smart as he is street wise, fascinated by ancient Greek myth, and the histories of Odysseus and Hercules lend plenty of thematic weight to Blood Standard. Barron's protagonist is one clearly cut from classical cloth, but his wiseguy mouth keeps him firmly rooted in the modern day. Isaiah is an incredibly well-drawn tragic hero, and one with plenty of tough guy wit, as well as a few moments of self-depreciation.

Barron weaves in moments of introspection between a good number of brief action scenes and plenty of tension, surrounding Coleridge with a number of clearly untrustworthy figures with questionable reputations. Coleridge is also given a few well-rounded foils in the love-interest, Meg, and partner-in-crime-cum-heroics, Lionel, a hard-drinking ex-military sort. Isaiah's scenes with these characters help to inform his growth as a man seeking to turn over a new leaf and set his life right. His history, his brushes with death, his exile from The Outfit, and his own firmly established moral code have left Coleridge grasping for a new life, and we get plenty of glimpses of what that life could be, the promises it could hold for him if he does right, how quickly it could fall apart if he steps wrong, and how badly anybody who crosses him will get hurt.

Laird Barron has crafted a terrific new character here, and half-way through Blood Standard I found myself already jonesing for the next book. I'm excited by the prospect of Coleridge's new life and focus, and I'm dying to see what future odysseys ensnare and disrupt him. This is a character that has plenty of legs for a series, and lots of layers left to mine in subsequent entries. And since I've gone and compared Coleridge to Reacher already, let me just say here for the record that I like Reacher a lot. But I like Coleridge a whole lot more.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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